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A Voluntary Death
by [?]

I knew the poet Louis Miraz very well, in the old times in the Latin Quarter, where we used to take our meals together at a cremerie on the Rue de Seine, kept by an old Polish woman whom we nicknamed the Princess Chocolawska, on account of the enormous bowl of creme and chocolate which she exposed daily in the show-window of her shop. It was possible to dine there for ten sous, with “two breads,” an “ordinaire for thirty centimes,” and a “small coffee.”

Some who were very nice spent a sou more for a napkin.

Besides some young men who were destined to become geniuses, the ordinary guests of the cremerie were some poor compatriots of the proprietress, who had all to some extent commanded armies. There was, above all, an imposing and melancholy old fellow with a white beard, whose old befrogged cloak, shabby boots, and old hat, which looked as if snails had crawled over it, presented a poem of misery, and whom the other Poles treated with a marked respect, for he had been a dictator for three days.

It was, moreover, at the Princess Chocolawska’s that I knew a singular fool, who gained his bread by giving German lessons, and declared himself a convert to Buddhism. On the mantle of the miserable room, where he lived with a milliner of Saint-Germain, was enthroned an ugly little Buddha in jade, fixing his hypnotized eyes on his navel, and holding his great toes in his hands. The German professor accorded to the idol the most profound veneration, but on the epoch of quarter-day he was sometimes forced to carry him to the Mont-de-piete, upon which he fell into a state of sombre chagrin, and did not recover his serenity until he was able to make amends for his impious act. He never failed, moreover, to renew his avowals in prosperous times, and finally to take his god out of pawn.

As to Louis Miraz, he had the deep eyes, the pale complexion, and the long and dishevelled hair of all those young men who come to town in third-class carriages to conquer glory, who spend more for midnight oil than for beefsteaks, and who, rich already with some manuscripts, have thrown out to great Paris from the height of some hill in its environs the classic defiance of Rastignac. At that time my hair was archaic enough in length to grease the collar of my coat. Thus we were made to understand each other, and Louis Miraz soon took me to his attic-room in the Rue des Quatre-Vents, where he dragged two thousand alexandrines over me.

Seriously, they were fresh and charming verses, with the inspiration of spring-tide, having the perfume of the first lilacs, and Forest Birds (the title of that collection of poems which Louis Miraz published a little while after he read them to me) will retain a place among the volumes in the first rank of belles-lettres, by the side of those poets of a single book–of the Daudet of the Amoureuses, for example.

For Miraz wrote no more verse. A young eaglet seeking the upper air, he made his eyrie on the summit of Montmartre, and for quite a while we lost sight of him. Then I found his name again in Sunday journals and reviews, when he began to write those short and exquisite sketches which have made his reputation. Thus five years passed, when I met him one day in the editor’s office of a journal for which I worked.

* * * * *

Each of us was as much pleased as the other at thus meeting again; and after the first “What, is that you? Is that you?” we stood facing each other, shaking hands, and exposing, in a laugh of cordial delight, our teeth, which in old times we used to exercise on the same crust of poverty. He had not changed. He had not even sacrificed his long hair, which he threw back with the graceful movement of a horse who tosses his mane. Only he had the clear complexion and calm eye of a contented man, and his slim figure was clad in most fashionable costume.